An awesome question: How do I ask for what I want in bed, when my partner is emotion dismissing?

Here’s an awesome question:

[I need help explaining to my partner about my feelings. I told them that it’s difficult for me to ask for what i want, and it’s a really big deal when I do have the courage to ask, so to please appreciate that courage. They say I shouldn’t feel uncomfortable asking because it’s them and they don’t understand why I’m even saying that. How can I handle this? They act put out when I ask for simple stuff, so I don’t feel comfortable about my chances of asking for the kind of sex I desire.

The dynamic you’re describing is pretty darn dysfunctional. Basically what you’re saying is, “I have a feeling and I’ve asked my partner to be gentle with that feeling, but instead they have contempt for that feeling.”

Contempt is bad. In fact, contempt is literally the worst.

When you say your partner says you “shouldn’t” feel that way, you’re describing a phenomenon called ”emotion dismissing.” Its healthy alternative is “attunement” or “emotion coaching.”

The thing is, uncomfortable feelings like fear and anger are inevitable sometimes, and how a couple deals with them is central to the health of their relationship.  Emotion coaching and emotion dismissing are two different ways of dealing with uncomfortable feelings.

Here’s a summary table of the two approaches:

+-------------------------------+-----------------------------------+
|                               |                                   |
| Emotion Dismissing            | Emotion Coaching                  |
+-------------------------------+---------------------------------+
| Just ignore subtle or         | Pay attention to lower-intensity  |
| lower-intensity negative      | emotions to prevent escalation.   |
| emotions.                     |                                   |
|                               | Negative emotions are natural     |
| Negative emotions are toxic.  | and healthy.                          |
|                               |                                   |
| Negative emotions are         | Negative emotions are discussed,  |
| punished- even if there       | given names, and empathized with. |
| is no misbehavior.            |                                   |
|                               | "Negative emotions happen         |
| "You can have any emotion     | sometimes because bad things      |
| you want, and if you choose   | happen sometimes."                |
| to have a negative one,       |                                   |
| it's your own fault."         | Introspection to understand what  |
|                               | one feels helps you have a sense  |
| Introspection to understand   | optimism, control, and effective  |
| what one feels is a waste, or | coping.                           |
| of time or even dangerous.    |                                   |
|                               |                                   |
| Feel bad about feeling bad.   | Feel accepting of feeling bad.    |
|                               |                                   |
| "Get over it."                | "Move through it."                |
|                               |                                   |
| "You cry all you need to,     | "C'mon, give me a smile,          |                                                   
| honey."                       | honey."                           |
|                               |                                   |
+-------------------------------+-----------------------------------+

Emotion coaching is how it’s supposed to work; it’s a basic component of a healthy, functional relationship.  Asking for your partner to appreciate your courage is the relationship equivalent of asking for the person to please pass the salt – 100% within-bounds, ordinary, bare-minimum healthy. If they judge you for wanting salt… basically what the fuck is the matter with them?

If your partner isn’t giving you emotion coaching, ask for it – go ahead, you’re only asking for the basics, nothing extravagant.

Bear in mind that your partner does not have to respond to you with attunement. They are not required or obligated to be emotion coaching, just as they’re not required or obligated to pass the salt when you ask for it.

But if you’re in a relationship with someone who won’t even just pass the fucking salt when you ask for it… I mean what the hell?

So if you ask for an emotion coaching response and they won’t give it to you… that’s it. That’s the relationship you’re in. You’re in a relationship where your feelings aren’t treated as equally valid with your partner’s. You can stay in it and hope they’ll change (which they won’t, unless they want to) or you can leave.

I’ve only got this handful sentences to go by, so I can’t possibly know which you should do.

But actually it sounds like you should leave this emotion dismissing fuckwad, basically.

So go read/watch John Gottman’s stuff on attunement and/or read Sue Johnson’s Love Sense, to learn what science says healthy, stable relationships look like. Compare that with what you’ve got. And decide what you want in your relationship.